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Neighbors express concerns over Meadowbrook proposal

Neighbors of Meadowbrook Flats, a proposed redevelopment that includes two five-story buildings near Emmet Street and Barracks Road, are worried the project would put too many cars and people in the already busy intersection.

The project, which calls for a mix of residential and commercial property, is in keeping with the Charlottesville City Council‘s  effort to limit sprawl by providing more dense community development.
 
City planners say one of the buildings, which would include 75 apartments to be constructed on a currently undeveloped grassy area , may be built by right, meaning it would not need a special review and approval by the city.
 
“In the zoning code, there are things you can do by right and there are things you allow by special use permit, and that means you need special permission from City Council ,” city planner Ebony Walden said during a recent site plan conference. “With the amount of land that you have, you can get 70 units, five stories; and if you do development in phase two, at that particular time, ask for a special use permit.” 
 
Phase two would include a commercial and residential structure on the existing Meadowbrook Shopping Center site. That building would include 50 apartments. 
 
The overall project would require a critical slopes waiver, site plan approval, a special use permit and a certificate of appropriateness to meet the entrance corridor review guidelines, planners said. A permit also is required for additional density and height. That would require public hearings before the commission and the council, according to planners.
 
A public hearing is scheduled before the planning commission May 14.
 
The idea that the first part of the Meadowbrook Flats project could be built without going through a special approval process alarms some neighbors. 
 
“We’re organizing,” said Lori Shinseki, a Barracks Road resident and creator of a website to mobilize neighborhood opposition.
 
Developers Clara Belle Wheeler and William Park said the project would mix residents and businesses in an area that has an existing traffic signal for ease of access.
 
“It’s trying to mix people with the commercial that’s already there, instead of having all commercial in an area that’s easily accessible to a signalized light,” Park said.
 
Several neighbors said the project would bring too much additional traffic at the intersection of Barracks Road and Emmet Street.  Walden said she understands their concern.
 
“For the special use permit, you’re going to have a really hard time convincing me and the planning commission about the traffic impact,” Walden told the developers. “I went out there at 2 in the afternoon and it took me a long time to turn left onto Emmet Street from Barracks Road.”
 
Walden said nine city departments will review the application to make sure it is up to both Charlottesville and Virginia’s standards.
 
“Their engineers could get an outside review, but all of their review is going to be by our own internal city reviewers,” Walden said. 
 
A member of the city’s design task force said the site plan was not consistent with the entrance corridor review guidelines for Emmet Street.
 
“There’s not one sidewalk that leads to the phase one building and when I looked at the plan it became clear that if somebody had mobility impairments, there’s not a single safe way they could arrive except in a car,” said Rachel Lloyd.
 
Lloyd added that those guidelines also recommend a maximum of four-story buildings in the area.
 
Barracks Road resident Tim Heaphy called for an external review of the project so citizens wouldn’t have to rely just on staff and the developer’s opinion.
 
“We seem to be making our decisions and weighing our position based on our speculation and your arithmetic,” Heaphy said.  “We could easily get more expertise on this to give a better sense of what’s going to happen.”